Islam and Oth­er Religions

Toward an Islam­ic The­o­ry of Meta-Religion

The rela­tion of Islam to the oth­er reli­gions has been estab­lished by God in His rev­e­la­tion, the Qur’an. No Mus­lim there­fore may deny it ; since for him the Qur’an is the ulti­mate reli­gious author­i­ty. Mus­lims regard the Qur’an as God’s own word ver­ba­tim, the final and defin­i­tive rev­e­la­tion of His will for all space and time, for all mankind.On this point Mus­lim schol­ar­ship is unan­i­mous­ly in agree­ment. To those who are not famil­iar with this long­stand­ing tra­di­tion, suf­fice it to warn that the sit­u­a­tion of hermeneu­ti­cal despair and con­fu­sion which exists in the case of Jew­ish, Chris­t­ian, Bud­dhist and oth­er scrip­tures has absolute­ly no par­al­lel in Islam.

The only kind of con­tention pos­si­ble for the Mus­lim is that of exeget­i­cal vari­a­tion. But in this realm, the scope of vari­a­tion is lim­it­ed in two direc­tions. First, con­ti­nu­ity of Mus­lim prac­tice through­out the cen­turies con­sti­tutes an irrefutable tes­ta­ment to the mean­ings attrib­uted to the Qur’an­ic vers­es. Sec­ond, the method­ol­o­gy of Mus­lim ortho­doxy in exe­ge­sis rests on the prin­ci­ple that Ara­bic lex­i­cog­ra­phy, gram­mar, and syn­tax, which have remained frozen and in per­pet­u­al use by the mil­lions ever since their crys­tal­liza­tion in the Qur’an leave no con­tention with­out solu­tion. These facts explain the uni­ver­sal­i­ty with which the Qur’an­ic prin­ci­ples were under­stood and observed, despite the widest pos­si­ble vari­ety of eth­nic cul­tures, lan­guages, races, and cus­toms char­ac­ter­iz­ing the Mus­lim world, from Moroc­co to Indone­sia, and from Rus­sia and the Balka­ns to the heart of Africa.

As for the non-Mus­lims, they may con­test the prin­ci­ples of Islam. They must know, how­ev­er, that Islam does not present its prin­ci­ples dog­mat­i­cal­ly, for those who believe or wish to believe, exclu­sive­ly. It does so ratio­nal­ly, crit­i­cal­ly. It comes to us armed with log­i­cal and coher­ent argu­ments, and expects our acqui­es­cence on ratio­nal, and hence nec­es­sary, grounds. It is not legit­i­mate for us to dis­agree on the rel­a­tivist basis of per­son­al taste, or that of sub­jec­tive experience.

We pro­pose to ana­lyze Islam’s ideation­al rela­tion in three stages : that which per­tains to Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty, that which per­tains to the oth­er reli­gions, and that which per­tains to reli­gion as such, and hence to all humans, whether they belong to any or no religion.

A. Judaism and Christianity

Islam accords to these two reli­gions spe­cial sta­tus. First, each of them is the reli­gion of God. Their founders on earth, Abra­ham, Moses, David, Jesus, are the prophets of God. What they have con­veyed — the Torah, the Psalms, the Evan­gel (gospels) — are rev­e­la­tions from God. To believe in these prophets, in the rev­e­la­tions they have brought, is inte­gral to the very faith of Islam.Qur’an 20:88, 29:46, and 42:15 To dis­be­lieve in them, nay to dis­crim­i­nate among them, is apos­ta­sy. Our Lord and your Lord is indeed God, the One and Only God.” God described His Prophet Muham­mad and his fol­low­ers as believ­ing all that has been revealed from God”; as believ­ing in God, in His angels, in His rev­e­la­tions and Prophets”; as not-dis­tin­guish­ing among the Prophets of God.Qur’an 2:285

Argu­ing with Jews and Chris­tians who object to this self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and claim an exclu­sivist monop­oly on the for­mer prophets, the Qur’an says : You claim that Abra­ham, Ish­mael, Isaac, Jacob, and their tribes were Jews or Chris­tians [and God claims oth­er­wise]. Would you claim knowl­edge in these mat­ters supe­ri­or to God’s?“Qur’an 2:140 Say, [Muham­mad], We believe in God, in what has been revealed by Him to us, what has been revealed to Abra­ham, Ish­mael, Isaac, Jacob, the tribes ; in what has been con­veyed to Moses, to Jesus, and all the prophets from their Lord.“Qur’an 3:84 We have revealed [Our rev­e­la­tion) to you [Muham­mad] as We did to Noah and the Prophets after him, to Abra­ham, Ish­mael, Isaac, Jacob, the tribes, to Jesus, Job, Jon­ah, Aaron, Solomon, and David.“Qur’an 3:24 It is God indeed, the liv­ing and eter­nal One, that revealed to you [Muham­mad] the Book [i.e., the Qur’an con­firm­ing the pre­vi­ous rev­e­la­tions. For it is He Who revealed the Torah and the Gospels as His guid­ance to mankind. … Who revealed the Psalms to David.“Qur’an 3:2 – 4 Those who have attained to faith [in this divine writ], those who fol­low the Jew­ish [scrip­tures], and the Sabi­ans and the Chris­tians — all those who believe in God and in the Day of Judg­ment, and have done good work — will receive their due reward from God. They have no cause to fear, nor shall they grieve.“Qur’an 5:69

The hon­or with which Islam regards Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty, their founders and scrip­tures, is not cour­tesy but acknowl­edg­ment of reli­gious truth. Islam sees them in the world not as oth­er views” which it has to tol­er­ate, but as stand­ing de jure, as tru­ly revealed reli­gions from God. More­over, their legit­i­mate sta­tus is nei­ther sociopo­lit­i­cal, nor cul­tur­al or civ­i­liza­tion­al, but reli­gious. In this, Islam is unique. For no reli­gion in the world has yet made belief in the truth of oth­er reli­gions a nec­es­sary con­di­tion of its own faith and witness.

Con­sis­tent­ly, Islam pur­sues this acknowl­edg­ment of reli­gious truth in Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion, name­ly, self-iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with them. Iden­ti­ty of God, the source of rev­e­la­tion in the three reli­gions, nec­es­sar­i­ly leads to iden­ti­ty of the rev­e­la­tions and of the reli­gions. Islam does not see itself as com­ing to the reli­gious scene ex nihi­lo but as reaf­fir­ma­tion of the same truth pre­sent­ed by all the pre­ced­ing prophets of Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty. It regards them all as Mus­lims, and their rev­e­la­tions as one and the same as its own. Togeth­er with Han­i­fism, the monothe­is­tic and eth­i­cal reli­gion of pre-Islam­ic Ara­bia, Judaism, Chris­tian­i­ty and Islam con­sti­tute crys­tal­liza­tions of one and the same reli­gious con­scious­ness whose essence and core is one and the same.Qur’an 3:67 and 21:71 – 94 The uni­ty of this reli­gious con­scious­ness can eas­i­ly be seen by the his­to­ri­an of civ­i­liza­tion con­cerned with the ancient Near East.An analy­sis of ancient Near East­ern reli­gious con­scious­ness may be read in this author’s His­tor­i­cal Atlas of the Reli­gions of the World (New York : The Macmil­lan Co., 1974), pp. 3 – 34 It is trace­able in the lit­er­a­tures of these ancient peo­ples and is sup­port­ed by the uni­ty of their phys­i­cal the­ater or geog­ra­phy, in their lan­guages (for which they are called Semit­ic”), and in the uni­ty of artis­tic expression.

This uni­ty of the reli­gious con­scious­ness of the Near East con­sists of five dom­i­nant prin­ci­ples that char­ac­ter­ize the known lit­er­a­tures of the peo­ples of this region. They are : 1) the ontic dis­parate­ness of God, the Cre­ator, from His crea­tures, unlike the atti­tudes of ancient Egyp­tians, Indi­ans, or Chi­nese, accord­ing to which God or the Absolute is imma­nent­ly His own crea­tures ; 2) the pur­pose of man’s cre­ation is nei­ther God’s self-con­tem­pla­tion nor man’s enjoy­ment, but uncon­di­tion­al ser­vice to God on earth, His own manor”; 3) the rel­e­vance of Cre­ator to crea­ture, or the will of God, is the con­tent of rev­e­la­tion and is expressed in terms of law, of oughts and moral imper­a­tives ; 4) man, the ser­vant, is mas­ter of the manor under God, capa­ble of trans­form­ing it through his own effi­ca­cious action into what God desires it to be ; and 5) man’s obe­di­ence to and ful­fill­ment of the divine com­mand results in hap­pi­ness and felic­i­ty, and its oppo­site in suf­fer­ing and damna­tion, thus coa­lesc­ing world­ly and cos­mic jus­tice together.

The uni­ty of Semit­ic” reli­gious and cul­tur­al con­scious­ness was not affect­ed by intru­sion of the Egyp­tiansThe evi­dence of Tall al Amar­nah (Akhetat­en) is the very oppo­site. The Egypt­ian colo­nial gov­er­nors in Pales­tine com­mu­ni­cat­ed with the Pharaoh not in Egypt­ian but in Akka­di­an. in the days of their empire (14651165 B.C.), nor by the Philistines from Caph­tor (Crete?), nor by the Hit­tites, Kas­sites, or Peo­ple of the Moun­tains” (the Aryan tribes?), who were all semit­i­cized and assim­i­lat­ed, despite their mil­i­tary con­quests.Regard­ing the lat­ter, Sabati­no Moscati wrote : In the course of estab­lish­ing them­selves, the new peo­ples thor­ough­ly absorbed the great cul­tur­al tra­di­tion already exist­ing. In this process of absorp­tion, Mesopotamia seems to pre­vail. Like Rome in the Mid­dle Ages, despite its polit­i­cal deca­dence, Mesopotamia cel­e­brates the tri­umph of its cul­ture (over its ene­mies).” The Face of the Ancient Ori­ent (New York : Dou­ble­day Anchor Books, 1962), p. 164 Islam has tak­en all this for grant­ed. It has called the cen­tral reli­gious tra­di­tion of the Semit­ic peo­ples Han­i­fism” and iden­ti­fied itself with it. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for the ear­ly Mus­lim schol­ars who ben­e­fit­ed from this insight as they labored, the lan­guage, his­to­ries, and lit­er­a­ture fur­nished by arche­ol­o­gy and the dis­ci­plines of the ancient Near East were not yet avail­able. Hence they scram­bled after the small­est bits of oral tra­di­tion, which they sys­tem­atized for us under the tide of His­to­ry of the Prophets.” In read­ing their mate­ri­als, we must remem­ber, how­ev­er, that the accu­rate-knowl­edge (Abra­ham, of Julius Cae­sar, of Amr ibn al AsLeader of the Mus­lim con­quest of Egypt in 19 A.H I 641 A.C. and late Gov­er­nor., and of Napoleon) about the Sphinx or the pyra­mids of Egypt, for instance, was equal i.e., nil.

The Islam­ic con­cept of Hanif” should not be com­pared to Ka Rah­n­er’s anony­mous Chris­tians.” Hanif” is a Qur’an­ic cat­e­go­ry not the inven­tion of a mod­ern the­olo­gian embar­rassed by his church’s exclu­sivist claim to divine grace. It has been oper­at­ing with­in the Islam­ic ideation­al sys­tem for four­teen cen­turies. Those to whom it is attrib­uted are the par­a­digms of faith and great­ness the most hon­ored rep­re­sen­ta­tives of reli­gious life, not the despised though tol­er­at­ed approx­i­ma­tors of the reli­gious ide­al. Islam’s hon­or­ing of the ancient prophets and their fol­low­ers is to be main­tained even if the Jews and Chris­tians stop or dimin­ish their loy­al­ty to them. Wor­thi­er of Abra­ham are those who real­ly fol­low him, this Prophet and those who believe in him.“Qur’an 3:68 In the Qur’an the Chris­tians are exalt­ed for their self-dis­ci­pline and humil­i­ty, and they are declared the clos­est of all believ­ers to the Mus­lims. “[O Muham­mad], you and the believ­ers will find clos­est in love and friend­ship those who say We are Chris­tians,’ for many of them are min­is­ters and priests who are tru­ly hum­ble?“Qur’an 5:82 If despite all this com­men­da­tion of them, of their prophets, and of their scrip­tures, Jews and Chris­tians would per­sist in oppos­ing and reject­ing the Prophet and his fol­low­ers, God com­mand­ed all Mus­lims to call the Jews and Chris­tians in these words : O Peo­ple of the Book, come now with us to ral­ly around a fair and noble prin­ci­ple com­mon to both of us, that all of us shall wor­ship and serve none but God, that we shall asso­ciate naught with Him, and that we shall not take one anoth­er as lords beside God. But if they still per­sist in their oppo­si­tion, then warn them that We shall per­sist in our affir­ma­tion.“Qur’an 3:63 – 64

Evi­dent­ly, Islam has giv­en the max­i­mum that can ever be giv­en to anoth­er reli­gion. It has acknowl­edged as true the oth­er reli­gion’s prophets and founders, their scrip­tures and teach­ing. Islam has declared its God and the God of the reli­gions of Jews and Chris­tians as One and the same. It has declared the Mus­lims the assis­tants, friends, and sup­port­ers of the adher­ents of the oth­er reli­gions, under God. If, after all this, dif­fer­ences per­sist, Islam holds them to be of no con­se­quence. Such dif­fer­ences must not be sub­stan­tial. They can be sur­mount­ed and resolved through more knowl­edge, good will, and wis­dom. Islam treats them as domes­tic dis­putes with­in one and the same reli­gious fam­i­ly. And as long as we both rec­og­nize that God alone is Lord to each and every one of us, no dif­fer­ence and no dis­agree­ment is beyond solu­tion. Our reli­gious, cul­tur­al, social, eco­nom­ic, and polit­i­cal dif­fer­ences may all be com­posed under the prin­ci­ple that God alone — not any one of us, not our pas­sions, our egos, or our prej­u­dices — is God.

B. The Oth­er Religions

Islam teach­es that the phe­nom­e­non of prophe­cy is uni­ver­sal ; that it has tak­en place through­out all space and time. Every human,” the Qur’an affirms, is respon­si­ble for his own per­son­al deeds. On the Day of Judg­ment, We shall pro­duce pub­licly the record of such deeds and ask every­one to exam­ine it, because it alone will be the basis of reck­on­ing. Who­ev­er is right­ly guid­ed so to his own cred­it ; who­ev­er errs does so to his own dis­cred­it. There is no vic­ar­i­ous guilt ; and We shall not con­demn [i.e., We shall not judge] until We had sent a prophet.“Qur’an 17:13 – 15 It fol­lows from God’s absolute jus­tice that He would hold nobody respon­si­ble unless His law has been con­veyed, pro­mul­gat­ed, and is known. Such con­veyance and/​or pro­mul­ga­tion are pre­cise­ly the phe­nom­e­non of prophe­cy. The same prin­ci­ple was oper­a­tive in the ancient Near East, where the states carved their laws in stone ste­lae that they erect­ed every­where for peo­ple to read. Igno­rance of the divine law is indeed an argu­ment when it is not the effect of uncon­cern or neglect ; and it is always an atten­u­at­ing fac­tor. Being absolute­ly just, as well as absolute­ly mer­ci­ful and for­giv­ing, God, Islam holds, left no peo­ple with­out a prophet to teach them the divine law. There is no peo­ple,” the Qur’an asserts, but a warner/​prophet has been sent to them.“Qur’an 35:24 Some of these prophets are wide­ly known ; oth­ers are not. So nei­ther the Jew­ish nor the Chris­t­ian nor the Mus­lim igno­rance of them implies the non-exis­tence. We have indeed sent prophets before you [Muham­mad]. About some of them We have informed you. About oth­ers We have not.“Qur’an 40:78 and 4:163 Thus the whole of mankind, past and present, is capa­ble of reli­gious mer­it and felic­i­ty as well as demer­it and damna­tion, because of the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of prophecy.

As Islam con­ceives it, the divine sys­tem is one of per­fect jus­tice. Uni­ver­sal­ism and absolute egal­i­tar­i­an­ism are con­sti­tu­tive of it. Hence, the phe­nom­e­non of prophe­cy not only must needs be uni­ver­sal­ly present but also its con­tent must be absolute­ly the same. If dif­fer­ent in each case, the uni­ver­sal­ism of the phe­nom­e­non would have lit­tle effect. There­fore Islam teach­es that the prophets of all times and places have taught one and the same les­son ; that God has not dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed among His mes­sen­gers. We have sent to every peo­ple a mes­sen­ger,” the Qur’an affirms, to teach them that wor­ship and ser­vice are due to God alone ; that evil must be avoid­ed [and the good pur­sued].“Qur’an 6:36 We have sent no mes­sen­ger except to con­vey [the divine mes­sage] in the tongue of his own peo­ple, to make it [the con­tent] clear­ly com­pre­hen­si­ble to them.“Qur’an 14:4 With this reas­sur­ance, no human has any excuse for fail­ing to acknowl­edge God, or to obey His law. “[We have sent to every peo­ple] prophets to preach and to warn, so that no human may have an argu­ment against God’s judg­ment of that indi­vid­u­al’s deeds].“Qur’an 4:165

Islam thus lays the ground for a rela­tion with all peo­ples, not only with Jews and Chris­tians whose prophets are con­firmed in the Qur’an. Hav­ing once been the recip­i­ents of rev­e­la­tion, and of a rev­e­la­tion that is iden­ti­cal to that of Islam, the whole of mankind may be rec­og­nized by Mus­lims as equal­ly hon­ored, as they are, by virtue of rev­e­la­tion and also as equal­ly respon­si­ble, as they are, to acknowl­edge God as the only God and to offer Him wor­ship, ser­vice, and obe­di­ence to His eter­nal laws.

If, as Islam holds, all prophets have con­veyed one and the same mes­sage, whence the tremen­dous vari­ety of the his­tor­i­cal reli­gions of mankind ? To this ques­tion, Islam fur­nish­es a the­o­ret­i­cal answer and a prac­ti­cal one.

1) Islam holds that the mes­sages of all prophets had but one essence and core com­posed of two ele­ments. First is tawhid, or the acknowl­edg­ment that God alone is God and that all wor­ship, ser­vice, and obe­di­ence are due to Him alone. Sec­ond is moral­i­ty, which the Qur’an defines as ser­vice to God, doing good, and avoid­ing evil.

Each rev­e­la­tion had come fig­ur­ized in a code of behav­ior par­tic­u­lar­ly applic­a­ble to its peo­ple, and hence rel­e­vant to their his­tor­i­cal sit­u­a­tion and con­di­tions. This par­tic­u­lar­iza­tion does not affect the essence or core of the rev­e­la­tion. If it did, God’s jus­tice would not be absolute and the claims of uni­ver­sal­ism and egal­i­tar­i­an­ism would fall to the ground. Par­tic­u­lar­iza­tion in the divine law must there­fore affect the how” of ser­vice, not its pur­pose or what,” the lat­ter being always the good, right­eous­ness, jus­tice, and obe­di­ence to God. If it ever affects the what,” it must do so only in those areas that are non-con­sti­tu­tive and hence unim­por­tant and acci­den­tal. This prin­ci­ple has the spe­cial mer­it of ral­ly­ing human­i­ty, whether poten­tial­ly or actu­al­ly, around com­mon prin­ci­ples of reli­gion and moral­i­ty, and of remov­ing such prin­ci­ples from con­tention, and from rel­a­tivism and sub­jec­tivism.It should be added here that Islam holds its rev­e­la­tion to be main­ly a rev­e­la­tion of a what” that can become a how” befit­ting any his­tor­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. Thus, the how“ ‘ or pre­scrip­tive form of the law may and does change in sub­stance as well as in appli­ca­tion, but not its spir­it, pur­pose, or what.” Usul al Fiqh dis­ci­pline has devised and insti­tu­tion­al­ized a sys­tem to gov­ern the process of evo­lu­tion of the law. 

There is there­fore a legit­i­mate ground for the reli­gious vari­ety in his­to­ry. In His mer­cy, God has tak­en due account of the par­tic­u­lar con­di­tions of each peo­ple. He has revealed to them all a mes­sage that is the same in essence ; but He has con­veyed to each one of them His law in a pre­scrip­tive form rel­e­vant to their par­tic­u­lar con­di­tions, to their own grade of devel­op­ment on the human scale. And we may con­clude that such dif­fer­ences are de jure because they do not affect the essence.

2) The sec­ond cause of reli­gious diver­si­ty is not as benev­o­lent as the first. The first, we have seen, is divine ; the sec­ond, human. To acknowl­edge and do the will of God con­veyed through rev­e­la­tion is not always wel­comed by all peo­ple. Some with vest­ed inter­ests may not agree with the divine dis­pen­sa­tions, and numer­ous cir­cum­stances favor such disagreement.

First, divine rev­e­la­tion has prac­ti­cal­ly always and every­where advo­cat­ed char­i­ty and altru­ism, min­is­ter­ing by the rich to the mate­r­i­al needs of the poor. The rich do not always acqui­esce in this moral imper­a­tive and may incline against it.

Sec­ond, divine rev­e­la­tion is near­ly always in favor of ordered social liv­ing. It would coun­sel obe­di­ence of the ruled to the law and self-dis­ci­pline. But it always does so under the assump­tion of a rule of jus­tice, which may not always be agree­able to rulers and kings who seek to have their own way. Their will pow­er may incline them against the social eth­ic of revelation.

Third, divine rev­e­la­tion always reminds man to mea­sure him­self by ref­er­ence to God and His law, not by ref­er­ence to him­self. But man is vain ; and self-ado­ra­tion is for him a con­stant temptation.

Fourth, rev­e­la­tion demands of humans that they dis­ci­pline their instincts and keep their emo­tions under con­trol. Humans, how­ev­er, are inclined to indul­gence. Orgies of instinct-sat­is­fac­tion and emo­tion­al excite­ment have punc­tu­at­ed human life. Often, this incli­na­tion mil­i­tates against revelation.

Fifth, where the con­tents of rev­e­la­tion are not judi­cious­ly and metic­u­lous­ly remem­bered, taught, and observed pub­licly and by the great­est num­bers, they tend to be for­got­ten. When they are trans­mit­ted from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion and are not embod­ied in pub­lic cus­toms observed by all, the divine imper­a­tives may suf­fer dilu­tion, shift of empha­sis, or change.

Final­ly, when the divine rev­e­la­tion is moved across lin­guis­tic, eth­nic, and cul­tur­al fron­tiers — indeed, even to gen­er­a­tions with­in the same peo­ple but fa removed from its orig­i­nal recip­i­ents in time — it may well change through inter­pre­ta­tion. Any or all of these cir­cum­stances may bring about a cor­rup­tion of the orig­i­nal revelation.

This is why God has seen fit to repeat the phe­nom­e­non of prophe­cy, to send forth prophets to recon­vey the divine mes­sage and reestab­lish it in the minds and hearts of humans. This divine injec­tion into his­to­ry is an act of sheer mer­cy. It is con­tin­u­al, always ad hoc, unpre­dictable. To those who inquire, What was the ratio­nale behind send­ing Muham­mad at that time and place, the Qur’an answers : God knows bet­ter where and when to send prophets to con­vey His mes­sage.“Qur’an 6:124

C. lslam’s Rela­tion to all Humans

Islam has relat­ed itself, equal­ly, to all oth­er reli­gions, whether rec­og­nized, his­tor­i­cal, or oth­er­wise. Indeed, even to the a‑religionists and athe­ists — what­ev­er their col­or — Islam has relat­ed itself in a con­struc­tive man­ner, its pur­pose being to reha­bil­i­tate them as inte­gral mem­bers of society.

This rela­tion con­sti­tutes Islam’s human­ism. At its root stand the rea­son for cre­ation, man’s rai­son d’e­tre. The first men­tion of the divine plan to cre­ate mankind occurs in a con­ver­sa­tion with the angels. I plan to place on earth a vicegerent. The angel respond­ed : Would you place on earth a being who would also do evil and shed blood while we always praise and glo­ri­fy and obey You ? God said : I have anoth­er pur­pose unknown to you.“Qur’an 2:30 The angels, evi­dent­ly, are beings cre­at­ed by God to act as His mes­sen­gers and/​or instru­ments. By nature, they are inca­pable of act­ing oth­er­wise than as God instructs them to act, and hence they are inca­pable of moral­i­ty. Their nec­es­sary predica­ment, always to do God’s bid­ding, dif­fer­en­ti­ates them from the human crea­ture God was about to place on earth.

In anoth­er dra­mat­ic and elo­quent pas­sage, the Qur’an reports : We [God] offered the trust to heav­en and earth and moun­tain. They refused to under­take it out of fear. But man did under­take it.“Qur’an 33:72 In the heav­ens, on earth, and in the moun­tains, God’s will is ful­filled with the neces­si­ty of nat­ur­al law. Cre­ation there­fore, to the exclu­sion of man, is inca­pable of ful­fill­ing the high­er part of God’s will, name­ly, the moral law. Only man is so empow­ered ; for moral­i­ty requires that its ful­fill­ment be free ; that its oppo­site or alter­na­tive, that which is amoral or immoral, be pos­si­ble of ful­fill­ment by the same per­son at the same time and in the same respect. It is of the nature of the moral deed that it be done when the agent could do oth­er­wise. With­out that option or pos­si­bil­i­ty, moral­i­ty would not be moral­i­ty. If done uncon­scious­ly or under coer­cion, the moral deed might have util­i­tar­i­an but no moral value.

Vicegeren­cy of God on earth means man’s trans­for­ma­tion of cre­ation — includ­ing above all him­self — into the pat­terns of God. It means obe­di­ent ful­fill­ment of His com­mand, which includes all val­ues, all eth­i­cal imper­a­tives. The high­est of imper­a­tives are the moral. Since man alone is capa­ble of moral action, only he can car­ry the divine trust” from which heav­en and earth and moun­tain” shied away. Man there­fore has cos­mic sig­nif­i­cance. He is the only crea­ture through whom the high­er part of the divine will can be real­ized in space and time.

To clar­i­fy the rai­son d’êtreof man, the Qur’an has rhetor­i­cal­ly asked mankind : Would you then think that We have cre­at­ed you in vain?“Qur’an 23:115 The Qur’an fur­ther prais­es men of under­stand­ing” who affirm : O God ! Cer­tain­ly You have not cre­at­ed all this [cre­ation] in vain!“Qur’an 3:191 As to the deniers of such a pur­pose for cre­ation, the Qur’?turns to an assertive, even offen­sive tone. Indeed We have not cre­at­ed heav­en and earth and all that is between in vain. That is the pre­sump­tion of unbe­liev­ers. Woe and Fire to them.“Qur’an 38:27 As to the con­tent of the divine pur­pose, the Qur’an asserts : And I have not cre­at­ed men and jinn except to worship/​serve Me.“Qur’an 51:56 The verb aba­da means wor­ship as well as serve. It has been used in this dou­ble sense in all Semit­ic lan­guages. In the Qur’an, it is giv­en fur­ther elab­o­ra­tion by the more spe­cif­ic answers giv­en to the same ques­tions of why cre­ation ? Why man ? It is He Who cre­at­ed heav­en and earth…that you [mankind] may prove your­selves in His eye the wor­thi­er in con­duct.” And it is He Who made you His vicegerents on earth…so that you may prove your­selves wor­thy of all that He has bestowed upon you.”We have not cre­at­ed heav­en and earth but … for you to prove your­selves wor­thi­er in your deeds.…All that is on earth and all the world­ly orna­ments we have made there­of are to the pur­pose of men prov­ing them­selves wor­thi­er in the deed.” (Qur’an 11:7, 6:165, and 18:7)

In order to enable man to ful­fill his rai­son d’être, God has cre­at­ed him capa­ble, and in the best of forms.“Qur’an 95:4 He has giv­en him all the equip­ment nec­es­sary to achieve ful­fill­ment of the divine imper­a­tives. Above all, God, Who cre­at­ed every­thing perfect…created man out of earth…and per­fect­ed and breathed into him of His own spir­it.“Qur’an 32:7 – 8 He has bestowed upon him his hear­ing, his sight, and his heart [the cog­ni­tive fac­ul­ties].” Above all, God has giv­en man his mind, his rea­son, and under­stand­ing, with which to dis­cov­er and use the world in which he lives. He has made the earth and all that is in it — indeed, the whole of cre­ation includ­ing the human self — mal­leable, that is, capa­ble of change and of trans­for­ma­tion by man’s action, of engi­neer­ing designed to ful­fill man’s purposes.

In reli­gious lan­guage, God has made nature sub­servient” to man. He has grant­ed mankind lord­ship” over nature. This is also the mean­ing of man’s khi­lafah or vicegeren­cy of God in the world. The Qur’an is quite emphat­ic in this regard : God has made the ships [the winds which dri­ve them] sub­ject to you.…And the rivers … the sun and moon, day and night.“Qur’an 14:32 – 33 He has made the seas sub­servient to you … camels and cat­tle … all that is on earth and in heav­en.“Qur’an 16:14, 22:36 – 37, 22:65, 31:20, and 45:12, 60 God has plant­ed man on earth pre­cise­ly to recon­struct and use it as a usufructQur’an 11:61 and to this pur­pose made him lord of the earth.“Qur’an 67:15 In order to make this engi­neer­ing of nature and its usufruct pos­si­ble, God has imbed­ded in it His sunan or pat­terns“Qur’an 30:30 and 48:23, the so-called laws of nature which we know to be per­ma­nent and immutable sole­ly through our faith that He is not a mali­cious but a benef­i­cent God. Read­ing God’s pat­terns in nature or cre­ation is equal­ly pos­si­ble in psy­chic or social natureOn the philo­soph­i­cal uncer­tain­ty of the laws of nature, see Clarence Irv­ing Lewis, Analy­sis of Knowl­edge and Val­u­a­ton (Lasalle, IL : Open Court Pub­lish­ing Co., 1946) and George San­tayana, Skep­ti­cism and Ani­mal Faith (New York : Charles Scrib­n­ers & Sons, 1923). Their posi­tion, which is that of con­tem­po­rary sci­ence, is epis­te­mo­log­i­cal­ly iden­ti­cal to that held by al Ghaz­a­li (d. 5041111) in his con­tro­ver­sy with the philoso­phers (see his Tahafit al Falasi­fah or Refu­ta­tion of the Philoso­phers, tr. by Sabih Kamali (Lahore : Pak­istan Philo­soph­i­cal Con­gress, 1963). , thus open­ing near­ly all areas of cre­ation to human obser­va­tion and cog­ni­tion, as well as a fair por­tion of the divine pur­pose or will.Qur’an 51:21, 33:62, and 35:43

Besides all this, God has revealed His will through the prophets direct­ly and imme­di­ate­ly, and com­mand­ed them to pro­claim it to their peo­ples in their own tongues. He has sent the Prophet Muham­mad with a final ver­sion which He con­venant­ed to guard against tam­per­ing and cor­rup­tionQur’an 15:9, and which has been pre­served intact, along with Ara­bic gram­mar and syn­tax, lex­i­cog­ra­phy, ety­mol­o­gy, and philol­o­gy all the lin­guis­tic appa­ra­tus required to under­stand it exact­ly as it was revealed.Qur’an 30:30 Cer­tain­ly this was a gra­tu­itous ges­ture, an act of pure char­i­ty and mer­cy, on the part of the benev­o­lent God. Its pur­pose is to make man’s knowl­edge and ful­fill­ment of the divine will eas­i­er and more acces­si­ble.Qur’an 3:18

Every human being, Islam affirms, stands to ben­e­fit from these divine dis­pen­sa­tions. The road to felic­i­ty is a free and open high­way that any­one may tread of his own accord. Every­body is innate­ly endowed with all these rights and priv­i­leges. God has grant­ed them to all with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion. Nature,” the earth,” the heav­ens” — all belong to each and every human.

Indeed, God has done all this and even more ! He has implant­ed His own reli­gion into every human at birth. The true reli­gion is innate, a reli­gio nat­u­ralis, with which all humans are equipped. Daz­zling reli­gious of mankind stands an innate reli­gion insep­a­ra­ble from human nature. This is the pri­mor­dial reli­gion, the Ur-Reli­gion, the one and only true reli­gion. Every­one pos­sess­es it unless accul­tur­a­tion and indoc­tri­na­tion, mis­guid­ance, cor­rup­tion, or dis­sua­sion has taught him oth­er­wise.This is the sub­stance of the Hadith, Every man is born with nat­ur­al reli­gion — i.e. as a Mus­lim. It is his par­ents that make him a Jew, a Magian, or a Chris­t­ian.” All men, there­fore, pos­sess a fac­ul­ty, a sixth sense,” a sen­sus com­mu­nis with which they can per­ceive God as God. Rudolph Otto called it the sense of the numi­nous,“Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy (New York : Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1958) and phe­nom­e­nol­o­gists of reli­gion have rec­og­nized it as the fac­ul­ty that per­ceives the reli­gious as reli­gious,” as sacred,” autonomous and sui gener­is, with­out reduc­tion­ism.Mircea Eli­ade, Pat­terns of Com­par­a­tive Reli­gion (Lon­don : Sheed and Ward, Ltd., undat­ed) and The Sacred and the Pro­fane (New York : Harp­er and Row, 1961).

Final­ly, Islam enter­tains no idea of the fall of man,” no con­cept of orig­i­nal sin”. It holds no man to stand in an innate, nec­es­sary predica­ment out of which he can­not pull him­self. Man, it holds, is inno­cent. He is born with his inno­cence. Indeed, he is born with a thou­sand per­fec­tions, with fac­ul­ties of under­stand­ing and an innate sense with which to know God. In this all men are equal, since it fol­lows from their very exis­tence, from their crea­ture­li­ness. This is the basis for Islam­ic universalism.

Con­cern­ing moral­i­ty and piety, man’s career on earth, Islam coun­te­nances no dis­tinc­tion among humans, no divi­sion of them into races or nations, castes or class­es. All men, it holds, issued from a sin­gle pair,” their divi­sion into peo­ples and tribes being a con­ven­tion designed for mutu­al acquain­tance.Qur’an 49:13 Nobler among you,” the Qur’an asserts, is only the more right­eous.“Ibid. And the Prophet added, in his farewell ser­mon : No Arab may have any dis­tinc­tion over a non-Arab, no white over non-white, except in right­eous­ness.“Ishaq ibn Hisham, Sir­at Rasul Allah (The Life of Muham­mad), tr. by Alfred Guil­laume (Oxford : Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1946) Thomas Arnold, The Preach­ing of Islam (Lon­don : 1906 ; Lahore : Muham­mad Ashraf Pub­li­ca­tions, 1961). Al Kufi, Shah-Namah, tr., by H. M. Elliott in his The His­to­ry of lndia As Told by Its Own His­to­ri­ans (Lon­don : 1867 – 77), vol 1, pp. 184 – 97

Islam­ic Meta-Reli­gion in History

Under these pre­cepts, whether explic­it­ly revealed in the ipsis­si­ma ver­ba of God or implied there­in, the Prophet Muham­mad worked out and pro­claimed the con­sti­tu­tion of the first Islam­ic state. He had bare­ly arrived in Mad­i­na (July, 622 A.C.) when he brought togeth­er all the inhab­i­tants of Mad­i­na and its envi­rons and pro­mul­gat­ed with them the Islam­ic state and its con­sti­tu­tion. This event was of cap­i­tal impor­tance for the rela­tion of Islam to the oth­er reli­gions, and of non-Mus­lims to Mus­lims of all times and places. Four years after the Prophet’s demise in 10632, Umar ibn al-Khat­tab, the sec­ond caliph, ordered that the date of pro­mul­ga­tion of this con­sti­tu­tion was so cru­cial for Islam as a world move­ment that it should be con­sid­ered the begin­ning of Islam­ic history.

The con­sti­tu­tion was a covenant, whose guar­an­tor was Allah, between the Prophet, the Mus­lims, and the Jews. It abol­ished the trib­al sys­tem of Ara­bia under which the Arab defined him­self and by which soci­ety was gov­erned. Hence­forth, the Arab was to be defined by Islam ; his per­son­al and social life was to be gov­erned by Islam­ic law, the shar­i’ah. The old trib­al loy­al­ties gave way to a new social bond that tied every Mus­lim to all oth­er Mus­lims across trib­al lines, to form the ummah. The ummah is an organ­ic body whose con­stituents mutu­al­ly sus­tain and pro­tect one anoth­er. Their per­son­al, rec­i­p­ro­cal, and col­lec­tive respon­si­bil­i­ties are all defined by law. The Prophet was to be its chief polit­i­cal and juris­tic author­i­ty ; and, as long as he lived, he exer­cised this pow­er. After his death, his khu­lafa(pl. of khal­i­fah, suc­ces­sor”) exer­cised polit­i­cal author­i­ty, while juris­tic author­i­ty devolved exclu­sive­ly upon the ula­ma (the jurists) who had by then devel­oped a method­ol­o­gy for inter­pre­ta­tion, renew­al, and expan­sion of the shari’ah.

A. The Jew­ish Ummah

Along­side this ummah of Mus­lims stood the ummah of the Jews. Their old trib­al­ist loy­al­ties to the Arab Aws and Khazraj tribes were to be sup­plant­ed by the bond of Judaism. Instead of their cit­i­zen­ship being a func­tion of their clientship to this or that Arab tribe, it was hence to be a func­tion of their Jew­ish­ness. Their life was to be struc­tured around Jew­ish insti­tu­tions and gov­erned by the Torah, their revealed law. Polit­i­cal author­i­ty was vest­ed in the chief rab­bi who was also known as Resh Galut, while juris­tic author­i­ty rest­ed with the sys­tem of rab­binic courts. Over­ar­ch­ing both ummahs was a third orga­ni­za­tion, also called al ummah, or al dawlah al Islamiyyah (the Islam­ic poli­ty, gov­ern­ment, or state”) whose con­stituents were the two ummahs and whose rai­son d’être was the pro­tec­tion of the poli­ty, the con­duct of its exter­nal affairs, and the car­ry­ing out of Islam’s uni­ver­sal mis­sion. The state” could con­script the ummah of Mus­lims in its ser­vices, whether for peace or for war, but not the ummah of Jews. Jews, how­ev­er, could vol­un­teer their ser­vices to it if they wished. Nei­ther the Mus­lim nor the Jew­ish ummah was free to con­duct any rela­tion with a for­eign pow­er, much less to declare war or peace with any oth­er state or for­eign nation. This remained the exclu­sive juris­dic­tion of the Islam­ic state.

The Jews, who entered freely into this covenant with the Prophet, and whose sta­tus the new con­sti­tu­tion raised from trib­al clients on suf­fer­ance to cit­i­zens de lure of the state, lat­er betrayed it. The sad con­se­quence was, first, the fin­ing of one group, fol­lowed by the expul­sion of anoth­er group found guilty of greater offense, and final­ly the exe­cu­tion of a third group that plot­ted with the ene­my to destroy the Islam­ic state and the Islam­ic move­ment. Although these judg­ments were made by the Prophet him­self , or, in the case of the third group, by an arbiter agre upon by the par­ties con­cerned, the Mus­lims did not under­stand them as direct­ed against the Jews as such, but against the guilty indi­vid­u­als only. Islam rec­og­nizes no vic­ar­i­ous guilt. Hence when the Islam­ic state lat­er expand­ed to include north­ern Arab Pales­tine, Jor­dan and Syr­ia, Per­sia, and Egypt, where numero Jews lived, they were auto­mat­i­cal­ly treat­ed as inno­cent con­stituents of the Jew­ish ummah with­in the Islam­ic state. This explains the har­mo­ny and coöper­a­tion that char­ac­ter­ized Mus­lim-Jew­ish rela­tions through­out the suc­ceed­ing centuries.

For the first time in his­to­ry since the Baby­lon­ian inva­sion 586 B.C., and as cit­i­zens of the Islam­ic state, the Jew could mod­el his life after the Torah and do so legit­i­mate­ly, sup­port­ed by the pub­lic laws of the state where he resided. For the first time, a non-Jew­ish state put its exec­u­tive pow­er at the ser­vice of a rab­binic court. For the first time, the state-insti­tu­tion assumed respon­si­bil­i­ty for the main­te­nance of Jew­ish­ness, and declared itself ready to use its pow­er to defend the Jew­ish­ness of Jews against the ene­mies of Jew­ish­ness, be they Jews or non-Jews.

After cen­turies of Greek, Roman, and Byzan­tine (Chris­t­ian) oppres­sion and per­se­cu­tion, the Jews of the Near East, of North Africa, of Spain, and Per­sia, looked upon the Islam­ic state as lib­er­a­tor. Many of them read­i­ly helped its armies in th con­quests and co-oper­at­ed enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly with the Islam­ic state admin­is­tra­tion. This coöper­a­tion was fol­lowed by accul­tur­a­tion into Ara­bic and Islam­ic cul­ture, which pro­duced a daz­zling blos­som­ing of Jew­ish arts, let­ters, sci­ences, and med­i­cine. It brought afflu­ence and pres­tige to the Jews, some of whom became min­is­ters and advis­ers to the caliphs. Indeed, Judaism and its Hebrew lan­guage devel­oped their gold­en age” under the aegis of Islam Hebrew acquired its first gram­mar, the Torah its most high­ly devel­oped jurispru­dence, Hebrew let­ters their lyri­cal poet­ry ; and Hebrew phi­los­o­phy found its first Aris­totelian, Musa ibn May­mun (Mai­monides), whose thir­teen pre­cepts, couched in Ara­bic first, defined the Jew­ish creed and iden­ti­ty. Judaism devel­oped its first mys­ti­cal thinker as well, Ibn Gabirol, whose Sufi” thought brought rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and inner peace to Jews through­out Europe. Under Abd al Rah­man III in Cor­do­ba, the Jew­ish prime min­is­ter, Has­dai ben Shapirut, man­aged to effect rec­on­cil­i­a­tion between Chris­t­ian mon­archs whom even the Catholic Church could not bring togeth­er. All this was pos­si­ble because of one Islam­ic prin­ci­ple on which it all rest­ed, name­ly, the recog­ni­tion of the Torah as rev­e­la­tion and of Judaism as God’s reli­gion, which the Qur’an attest­ed and proclaimed.

B. The Chris­t­ian Ummah

Short­ly after the con­quest of Mak­ka by Mus­lim forces in 8630, the Chris­tians of Najran in Yeman sent a del­e­ga­tion of chief­tains to meet the Prophet in Mad­i­nah. Their pur­pose was to clar­i­fy their posi­tion vis-a-vis the Islam­ic state, and that of the state vis-a-vis them. The con­quest of Mak­ka had made the Islam­ic state a pow­er to reck­on with in the region. The del­e­gates were the guests of the Prophet , and he received them in his house and enter­tained them in his mosque. He explained Islam to them and called them to con­vert to his faith and cause. Some of them did and instant­ly became mem­bers of the Mus­lim ummah. Oth­ers did not. They chose to remain Chris­t­ian, and to join the Islam­ic state as Chris­tians. The Prophet con­sti­tut­ed them as a Chris­t­ian ummah, along­side the Jew­ish and Mus­lim ummahs, with­in the Islam­ic state. He sent with them one of his com­pan­ions, Mu’adh ibn Jabal, to rep­re­sent the Islam­ic state in their midst. They con­vert­ed to Islam in the peri­od of the sec­ond Caliph (214 A.H. /​634 – 646 A.C.), but the Chris­t­ian ummah in the Islam­ic state con­tin­ued to grow by the expan­sion of its fron­tiers to the north and west. Indeed, for the greater part of a cen­tu­ry, the major­i­ty of the cit­i­zens of the Islam­ic poli­ty were Chris­tians, enjoy­ing respect, lib­er­ty, and a new dig­ni­ty they had not enjoyed under either Chris­t­ian Rome or Byzan­tium. Both these pow­ers were impe­ri­al­ist and racist and they tyr­an­nized their sub­jects as they col­o­nized the ter­ri­to­ries of the Near East.

An objec­tive account of the con­ver­sion of the Chris­tians of the Near East to Islam should be required read­ing for all, espe­cial­ly for those still labor­ing under the Cru­sades-old prej­u­dice that Islam was spread among Chris­tians by the sword. Chris­tians lived in peace and pros­pered under Islam for cen­turies, dur­ing which time the Islam­ic state saw right­eous as well as tyran­nic sul­tans and caliphs. Had it been a part of Islam­ic sen­ti­ment to do away with the Chris­t­ian pres­ence, it could have been done with­out a rip­ple in the world or his­to­ry.Thomas Arnold, The Preach­ing of Islam (Lon­don : 1906 ; Lahore : Muham­mad Ashraf Pub­li­ca­tions, 1961). But it was Islam’s respect for and acknowl­edg­ment of Jesus as Prophet of God and of his Evan­gel (Gospel) as rev­e­la­tion that safe­guard­ed that pres­ence. The same is true of Abyssinia, a neigh­bor­ing Chris­t­ian state, which har­bored the first Mus­lim emi­grants from the wrath of Mak­ka and main­tained with the Islam­ic poli­ty at the time of the Prophet a covenant of peace and friend­ship. The expan­sive designs of the Islam­ic state nev­er includ­ed Abyssinia pre­cise­ly on that account.

C. Ummah of Oth­er Religions

Per­si­a’s incur­sion into Ara­bia had left behind it some, though very few, Arab con­verts to the Zoroas­tri­an faith. A larg­er num­ber of these lived in the buffer desert zone between Per­sia and Byzan­tium, and in Shatt al Arab, the low­er region of the con­flu­ence of the Tigris and Euphrates, where Ara­bia and Per­sia over­lapped. Notable among the Per­sian Zoroas­tri­ans in Ara­bia was Salman al-Far­si , who con­vert­ed to Islam before the Hijrah and became one of the illus­tri­ous com­pan­ions of the Prophet.

Accord­ing to some tra­di­tions, it was the Prophet him­self who, in the Year of Del­e­ga­tions” (89÷630631), the year that saw the tribes and regions of Ara­bia send­ing del­e­ga­tions to Mad­i­na to pledge their feal­ty to the Islam­ic state, rec­og­nized the Zoroas­tri­ans as anoth­er ummah with­in the Islam­ic state. Very soon after­ward, the Islam­ic state con­quered Per­sia and includ­ed all its mil­lions with­in its cit­i­zen­ry. Those who con­vert­ed to Islam joined the ummah of Mus­lims, and the mil­lions of oth­ers who chose to remain Zoroas­tri­an were accord­ed the same priv­i­leges and duties accord­ed by the con­sti­tu­tion to the Jews. The Prophet had already extend­ed their appli­ca­tion to the Chris­tians eight years after the con­sti­tu­tion was enact­ed. They were extend­ed to apply to the Zoroas­tri­ans in 14636, fol­low­ing the con­quest of Per­sia by the Prophet’s com­pan­ions, if not soon­er by the Prophet himself.

Fol­low­ing the con­quest of India by Muham­mad bin Qasim in 91711, the Mus­lims faced new reli­gions that they had nev­er known before, Bud­dhism and Hin­duism. Both reli­gions co-exist­ed in Sind and the Pun­jab, the regions con­quered by Mus­lims and joined to the Islam­ic state. Muham­mad bin Qasim sought instruc­tion from the caliph in Dam­as­cus on how to treat Hin­dus and Bud­dhists. They appeared to wor­ship idols, and their doc­trines were at the far­thest remove from Islam. Their founders were unheard of by Mus­lims. The Caliph called a coun­cil of ula­ma and asked them to ren­der judg­ment on the basis of the gov­er­nor’s report. The judg­ment was that as long as Hin­dus and Bud­dhists did not fight the Islam­ic state, as long as they paid the jizyah or tax due, they must be free to wor­ship their gods as they please, to main­tain their tem­ples, and to deter­mine their lives by the pre­cepts of their faith. Thus, the same sta­tus as that of the Jews and Chris­tians was accord­ed to them.Al Kufi, Shah-Namah, tr., by H. M. Elliott in his The His­to­ry of lndia As Told by Its Own His­to­ri­ans (Lon­don : 1867 – 77), vol 1, pp. 184 – 97

The prin­ci­ple gov­ern­ing Islam and Islam­ic gov­ern­men­tal rela­tions with oth­er reli­gions and their adher­ents had thus been estab­lished. It was imple­ment­ed as the Islam­ic state entered into rela­tions with those adher­ents, a process that took place either dur­ing the Prophet’s life or very soon after it. When the shar­i’ah crys­tal­lized in pre­scrip­tive form, the sta­tus, rights, and oblig­a­tions of Mus­lim and non-Mus­lim cit­i­zens were already includ­ed. For four­teen cen­turies in many places, or less because of a lat­er arrival of Islam or the impo­si­tion of West­ern law by colo­nial admin­is­tra­tions, the shar­i’ah suc­cess­ful­ly gov­erned Mus­lim non-Mus­lim rela­tions. It cre­at­ed a modus viven­di which enabled the non-Mus­lims to per­pet­u­ate them­selves — hence their con­tin­u­ing pres­ence in the Mus­lim world — and to achieve felic­i­ty as defined by their own faiths.

The atmos­phere of the Islam­ic state was one replete with respect and hon­or to reli­gion, piety, and virtue, unlike the tol­er­ance of mod­ern times in the West born out of skep­ti­cism regard­ing the truth of reli­gious claims, and of cyn­i­cism and uncon­cern for reli­gious val­ues. The Islam­ic shar­i’ah is oth­er­wise known as the mil­lah or mil­let sys­tem (mean­ing reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties”), or the Dhimmah or Zim­mi sys­tem (mean­ing the covenant of peace whose dhimmah or guar­an­tor is God).

Evil rulers can­not be denied to have exist­ed in the Mus­lim world any more than in any oth­er empire. Where they exist­ed, Mus­lims suf­fered as well as non-Mus­lims. Nowhere in Islam­ic his­to­ry, how­ev­er, were non-Mus­lims sin­gled out for pros­e­cu­tion or per­se­cu­tion. The con­sti­tu­tion that pro­tect­ed them was tak­en by Mus­lims to be God-inspired, God-pro­tect­ed. The Prophet had already warned : If any­one oppress­es any dhim­mi, I shall be his pros­e­cu­tor on the Day of Judg­ment.” No oth­er reli­gion or soci­etal sys­tem has ever regard­ed the reli­gious minor­i­ty in bet­ter light, inte­grat­ed it into the stream of the major­i­ty with as lit­tle dam­age to either par­ty, or treat­ed it with­out injus­tice or unfair­ness as Islam did. Indeed, none could. Islam suc­ceed­ed in a field where all oth­er reli­gions failed because of its unique the­ol­o­gy, which rec­og­nized the true, one, and only reli­gion of God to be innate in every per­son, the pri­mor­dial base of all reli­gions, iden­ti­cal with Sabi­an­ism, Judaism, and Christianity.

Evi­dent­ly, far from being a nation­al state, the Islam­ic poli­ty is a world order in which numer­ous reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties, nation­al or transna­tion­al, co-exist in peace. The uni­ver­sal Pax Islam­i­ca rec­og­nizes the legit­i­ma­cy of every reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty, and grants it the right to order its life in accor­dance with its own reli­gious genius. It is supe­ri­or to the Unit­ed Nations because, instead of nation­al sov­er­eign­ty as the prin­ci­ple of mem­ber­ship, it has tak­en the prin­ci­ple of reli­gious iden­ti­ty. Its con­sti­tu­tion is divine law, valid for all, and may be invoked in any Mus­lim court by any­one, be he a sim­ple Mus­lim or non-Mus­lim indi­vid­ual or the chief of the largest reli­gious community.

Con­clu­sion : The Crit­i­cal Method­ol­o­gy of Islam

Let us, in con­clu­sion, review the char­ac­ter­is­tics of meta-reli­gion accord­ing to Islam, those char­ac­ter­is­tics that make it ratio­nal and critical.

1) Islam­ic meta-reli­gion does not a pri­ori con­demn any reli­gion. Indeed, it gives every reli­gion the ben­e­fit of the doubt and more. Islam­ic meta-reli­gion assumes that every reli­gion is God-revealed and God-ordained, until it is his­tor­i­cal­ly proven beyond doubt that the con­sti­tu­tive ele­ments of that reli­gion are human made.

2) Islam­ic meta-reli­gion read­i­ly links the reli­gions of his­to­ry with the divine source on the ground that there is no peo­ple or group but God had sent them a prophet to teach them the same les­son of reli­gion, of piety and virtue.

3) Islam­ic meta-reli­gion grants ready accred­i­ta­tion to all humans in their reli­gious attempts to for­mu­late and express reli­gious truth. For it acknowl­edges all humans to have been born with all that is nec­es­sary to know God and His will, the moral law, so as to dis­crim­i­nate between good and evil.

4) Islam­ic meta-reli­gion is painful­ly aware of human pas­sions, prej­u­dices, and defi­cien­cies and of their sin­is­ter influ­ence upon what was revealed or dis­cov­ered to be pri­mor­dial reli­gion (din al fitrah) or pri­mor­dial truth. Thus, it calls upon all humans, espe­cial­ly the ula­ma of each reli­gion, to sub­ject their reli­gious tra­di­tions to ratio­nal, crit­i­cal exam­i­na­tion, and to dis­card those ele­ments that are proven to be human addi­tions, emen­da­tions, or fal­si­fi­ca­tions. In this task of his­tor­i­cal crit­i­cism of all the reli­gions of his­to­ry, all humans are broth­ers and must coöper­ate to estab­lish the pri­mor­dial truth under­ly­ing all the religions.

5) Islam­ic meta-reli­gion hon­ors human rea­son to the point of mak­ing it equiv­a­lent to rev­e­la­tion in the sense that nei­ther can dis­card the oth­er with­out imper­il­ing itself. That is why in Islam­ic method­ol­o­gy, no con­tra­dic­tion, or non-cor­re­spon­dence with real­i­ty, can be final or ulti­mate. The Islam­ic schol­ar of reli­gion is there­fore ever tol­er­ant, ever open to evi­dence, ever critical.

6) Islam­ic meta-reli­gion is human­is­tic par excel­lence, in that it assumes all men to be inno­cent, not fall­en or viti­at­ed at birth, capa­ble of dis­cern­ing good and evil, free to choose accord­ing to their rea­son, con­science, or best knowl­edge, and per­son­al­ly, that is, indi­vid­u­al­ly, respon­si­ble for their own deeds.

7) Islam­ic meta-reli­gion is world — and life — affir­ma­tive, in that it assumes cre­ation, life, and his­to­ry not to be in vain, not the work of a blind force, or of a trick­ster-god, but ordered to lead to val­ue. It acknowl­edges the crit­i­cal prin­ci­ple that nature is inca­pable by itself to pro­duce crit­i­cal self-con­scious­ness, but man’s role is to do pre­cise­ly that. A trick­ster-god would be in fool­ish self-con­tra­dic­tion, to cre­ate man and endow him with his crit­i­cal faculties.

8) Final­ly, Islam­ic meta-reli­gion is an insti­tu­tion, not a mere the­o­ry, test­ed by four­teen cen­turies of con­tin­u­ous appli­ca­tion, of suc­cess against tremen­dous odds. It alone among the reli­gions and ide­olo­gies of the world was large enough in heart, in spir­it as well as in let­ter, to give mankind the gift of a plu­ral­ism of laws with which to gov­ern their lives under the aegis of its own meta-reli­gious prin­ci­ples and laws. It alone acknowl­edged such plu­ral­i­ty of laws as reli­gious­ly and polit­i­cal­ly de jure, while it called their adher­ents with wis­dom and fair argu­ment to con­sid­er ratio­nal­ly, crit­i­cal­ly, and freely why they should not unite under the ban­ner of the one reli­gion that is the one and only meta-religion. Islam and Other Religions 1Endmark

Cite this arti­cle as : Isma’il Raji al-Faruqi, Islam and Oth­er Reli­gions,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, Octo­ber 5, 2005, last accessed Decem­ber 11, 2023, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​h​i​s​t​o​r​y​/​i​s​l​a​m​-​a​n​d​-​o​t​h​e​r​-​r​e​l​i​g​i​o​ns/







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